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“I call this place my buen retiro, a Spanish expression that means safe haven,” says menswear designer Luca Larenza. He’s referring to his family’s house, Villa Elisa, which his aunt and uncle built in 1988 in the southern Italian province of Caserta. Out of the imprecisely hexagonal window of its second-floor bedroom, you can see the peak of Mount Vesuvius, one of Italy’s most active volcanoes. The villa is located some 50 miles north of it, on the caldera of another volcano, Roccamonfina, which has been extinct for thousands of years and is now overgrown with groves of sweet chestnut trees. From such a vantage, the place certainly would feel like a safe haven.
But for Larenza it is a refuge from the pace of Milan, where he runs a namesake clothing line that has earned a cult following since he launched it in 2011. The 35-year-old designer was born and raised in Caserta and studied law in Spain before switching to fashion management, after realizing that he should direct his passion for textiles and his strong tailor’s sense toward a different career path.
The sense of escape at Villa Elisa is enhanced by the fact that the structure feels of another time, if not of another universe. “It’s like it came out of the environment,” Larenza says. “There is no clear separation between the house and landscape.” It was designed by Larenza’s architect aunt, Immacolata Fusco, who once worked under the Italian master Paolo Portoghesi, and was built by his uncle Angelo Fusco, a plastic surgeon. A labor of love, the villa was born of the siblings’ desire to reconnect with the natural surroundings.
Seen from outside, the terraced levels adhere to the incline of the hill, with one grassy cliffside naturally extending onto a low-lying roof. Inside, ceiling beams and stone floors seem to have developed naturally over time, as if an ancient site had been reclaimed by growth. Throughout the house, edges are rounded, stone pieces are stacked casually or jut out with abandon, and walls slope in and out at every angle. “It’s not your typical Italian villa, but it feels like southern Italy,” Larenza says.
The home has the feeling of a work in progress. In the dining room, to the right of the entryway, an olive tree that the family didn’t want to cut down rises out of a circular opening in the floor; on the opposite side, a large stone boulder that was exposed during construction was left in place; the central stone staircase has a chestnut-trunk handrail, with the wood’s knots still visible. The villa’s gardens are dotted with fountains created by the sculptors Luigi Stocchetti and Giovanni Russo.
Most of the furniture, including a sculptural wooden breakfast nook and the marble-topped kitchen counters, were built by local artisans, who proposed their ideas after visiting the house.
What was once Larenza’s childhood summer home now functions as the designer’s creative hideaway. He usually finds inspiration for upcoming collections during his travels, and then he’ll return to the villa to develop his ideas. In the nearby mountain town of Roccamonfina, he has a network of tailors he works with to experiment with different textiles. For fans of Larenza’s collections of breezy knitwear and structured basics, the influence of the house can be seen in his use of colors found in nature, like brick red and moss green, and the way his cuts seem to drape naturally on the frame. “It’s something I carry inside,” he says. “The colors and shapes of the villa are always in me.”